What’s the Most Important Article of Furniture in the U.S. Legal System?

It is a quirky question: What’s the most important article of furniture in the U.S. legal system?

Most people think about it for a second, looking perplexed by the question. Then their faces brighten and they say, “The judge’s rostrum!” After all, what better signifies the majesty of the justice system than that? The judge presides from an elevated seat, separated from the common people to whom he dispenses wisdom and guidance. It’s from the bench that he announces damage awards, issues decrees and orders, and imposes criminal sentences. So it’s the judge’s rostrum that best symbolizes how all U.S. citizens are subservient to the rule of law. Right?

Nah, that’s a load of hooey. Anyone who has ever met a judge socially knows that they’re just ordinary folk like the rest of us, not demigods issuing proclamations from the heights of Olympian glory. The judge’s rostrum is actually a bad symbol for our justice system, because it suggests that some people might be above the law.

No, the true nature of the legal system is best represented by the table.

well-prepared-meeting-roomThe Table: Symbolism and Functionality

“All furniture communicates meaning—it’s unavoidable. It’s what things do,” writes Ian Sansom, a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. He goes on to say, “A bed speaks of our inner lives, of the body and the soul. Our cupboards and cabinets imply secrets. Wardrobes suggest our dreams of other worlds. And tables invite company.”

Tables don’t only symbolize the importance of social connections, though; they also are important symbols for equality. That was precisely the point of the most important table in our mythology, King Arthur’s Round Table: all those seated at it were to have an equal say in matters. Equality—even limited to an elite order of knights—was a radical idea in sixth century Britain, but it’s fundamental to modern ideas about fair treatment by the law.

Tables have a special significance within the legal community. Let’s face facts: the courtroom is no longer the primary place where law “happens.” Reliable estimates are elusive, but it’s been suggested that 95 percent of civil cases are settled out of court. For criminal cases, it appears that plea bargaining and charge bargaining dispose of 90 to 95 percent of cases. Divorces, employment actions, contract disputes—they all get routed routinely to mediation and arbitration. Yes, in the concluding stages a judge may be called in to ratify the decision, but the essential part of the process has already taken place around a conference table in a meeting room somewhere.

Meeting rooms have become important. Getting the right table is now seen as essential. Is there any wonder that office design for law firms has become a big industry over the last decade or so? Even small law firms and solo practices will call in design consultants early on, and the conversation will begin with getting just the right table.

So Whose Table Are You Using?

Many attorneys will shy away from meeting clients in their own offices. It’s not just a matter of clutter in the professional workspace; a lawyer’s desk projects a signal about dominance and authority that can make many clients uncomfortable. Wouldn’t it be better to meet in the neutral, egalitarian environment of the conference room down the hall? Sure.

But that conference room is still space under your control. That can be an asset when talking to your own clients or fellow attorneys, but it may be a psychological barrier when you have to deal with outsiders. “Who owns this room? Where will we meet?” can become emotionally tense questions when you have to plan a settlement conference, mediation, deposition hearing, pre-trial negotiation session, or conference. Each side to a dispute may be uncomfortable in the other lawyer’s “house,” and that can stifle positive communication and good will.

In the alternative, consider the advantages of using our facilities. Casamo & Associates’ meeting spaces are neutral turf, but they are not bland, institutional settings. We’re located within walking distance of the Fairfax County Courthouse. And, of course, we have the full range of video and audio equipment your meeting might require right at hand. Our videoconference and meeting facilities can accommodate depositions, consultations, business presentations, and any other gathering you have planned.

Oh, and we have very nice tables. Want to use one? Give us a call at (877) 837-0077 and tell us what you need.

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